The Advantages and Disadvantages Of Having Computer Labs In Schools
In an uncertain world there is one thing that I know for certain…everything is continually changing. There can absolutely be no doubt about that. In this modern age of rapid technology growth, we see a world which is more connected than ever before. We also perceive changes occurring at a pace unheard of in the past. What was popular last month is all of a sudden “passé” as it is replaced with spanking brand new technology. The field of education has seen a fair number of transformations over the years as well. Albeit, these changes have tended to take longer to implement and are certainly not cohesive across the globe. One question which does seem to be popping up quite regularly has to do with the issue of computer labs in schools. More specifically, are computer labs in schools still relevant and good practice…or are they destined to go the way of the proverbial dodo bird as they become expendable and extinct?
When I think about what I have personally observed in regards to technology growth in education over the years, I literally marvel at the transformations which have occurred. When I first began teaching, if a classroom was lucky enough to have a computer it was the ever handy “Commodore 64″ (yes…I am dating myself) and was primarily used as a gaming/reward system. This was then replaced with the creation of computer labs in schools as society recognized the need to teach technology to our children. It was (and remains) the way of the future. These labs were equipped with a decent number of computers, access to the Internet and a technology specialist teacher who knew how to navigate and instruct the students in regards to all issues of information, communication and technology. Indeed, earlier in my career I was one of those teachers and held the position of computer lab teacher. Fast forward in time and we have now come to the point where schools are connected through wireless and they no longer need to be hard-wired in. Also, students and teachers are increasingly bringing their own devices to school and teachers are becoming more comfortable with technology in their classrooms. The obvious question which thus arises is if computer labs are still relevant? Instead of providing a yes or no answer to this query, I believe outlining the advantages and disadvantages of computer labs in schools would be more worthwhile as people can draw their own conclusions.
Advantages of Computer Labs:
1. Equity: One of the greatest advantages of having labs in schools is the fact that in the majority of cases it means everyone can have equal access to the computers. Most labs are equipped with enough computers for each student to have a machine. This is both equitable and engaging for the students.
2. Security and Maintenance of the Computers: Lets be realistic…computers are expensive! When they are kept in a dedicated room controlled by a specialist teacher, they are more secure and far less prone to becoming misused or broken. Also, the computer lab teacher will be able to perform small maintenance jobs and oversee compatible software delivery.
3. Specialist Teacher: The actual computer lab teacher is a huge advantage of having computer labs. These are typically teachers who have been selected due to their extensive knowledge in the area of I.T. Not only do they provide solid instruction in technology for the students, but also help the regular teachers with anything technology related as well. The computer lab teacher becomes the “go to” and resource person when it comes to do with anything I.T. related in the school.
4. Group Work Capability: Another key advantage of having computer labs in the school is the capability to train groups of students (a whole class for instance) in key concepts or applications at the same time. If there is a particular program or application which the teacher wants the students to learn and master, the whole class can be given instruction on it at the same time and work through the technological challenges in a supported group.
Disadvantages of Computer Labs:
1. Frequency of Instruction: This is one of the more obvious disadvantages when we are discussing computer labs. Essentially, the lab is shared by the entire school and therefore is not available very often. It becomes a real juggling act to ensure that the students and their classrooms are all granted equal access. If the majority of the technology is kept in the lab, the only time the students are thus able to expand their skills in this area is when it is their turn to visit the lab. Of course, most labs have open periods for drop ins, but this does not always work out so well as these often conflict with existing schedules.
2. Cost: As I mentioned earlier…computers are extremely costly! To outfit a lab properly with enough computers so the students have access to their own machine is beyond expensive. However, that is by no means the end of the costs. You also have to worry about repairs, software and printing costs such as paper and cartridges. The list is extensive. Then, just when everything is finally bought, the warranties run out and you have to start again. By going the route of Bring Your Own Device, schools and the education system can save a bundle of money.
3. The Evolving Teacher: One of the reasons that computer labs started in the first place was the need to have a teacher who had a good grasp on technology to teach and share their knowledge with the students and other staff. It was a very new area and not very many teachers were comfortable with I.T. However, times have changed. In education today teachers really have very little choice. Technology is a key part of the job and teachers have recognized this and actively sought out the knowledge and skills to make themselves more proficient with it. They are then able to teach the students the skills which before only the specialist was able to do. This in turn makes the case that perhaps the specialist is no longer required as all teachers have become experts in many ways.
4. Difficulty Integrating Content back into the Classroom: As a computer lab teacher, one of the most pressing goals is to integrate the classroom curriculum into the lab instruction. Having the computers and technology to integrate and support classroom instruction is the ultimate goal. However, the design and layout of the computer lab makes this difficult to accomplish. Classroom curriculum flows daily like a stream and is quite dynamic. While instruction can be started in the lab, it cannot be picked up again until the next visit. This in turn breaks this flow as the lab and classroom become separate entities. Many lab teachers will work around this issue as much as they can, but in some cases the lab becomes a room for rote learning to occur.
There you have it…the advantages and disadvantages of having computer labs in schools. Without a doubt, every single lab and teacher are individuals and run things differently. Also, there is a huge range of technology depending upon what school you go to. Some are very well equipped and others not so much. My goal has been to present both sides of the issue in a general and balanced way. One thing that readers and schools may consider however is looking at hybrid models. In other words, a balance of both. Too often in education we either go all the way in one direction or all the way in the other. Often the correct way is staring at us from the middle.
Michael Trucano. School Computer Labs: A Bad Idea? Edutech. 2011 http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/computer-labs
Mary-Beth Hertz. The Pros and Cons of Computer Labs. Edutopia. 2013 http://www.edutopia.org/blog/pros-cons-computer-labs-mary-beth-hertz
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